Wednesday, I wrote a post titled “An Open Letter To All The Pastors I Know” that offended some people. Before I say anything else, I want to apologize to anyone I may have insulted. Here’s the thing: that was not the post I intended to write. The original idea was to write about the difficulties people with ADD encounter in church. Somehow, it spun off into the mess I posted the other day (someone with ADD went off on a tangent? Who’d a thunk it?). Today, I decided to write the post I meant to then. Hopefully, I’ve done better this time.
As I’ve stated many times, I have a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Which is a nice way of saying I have the attention span of a gnat. But, here’s something I haven’t told you about that: my ADD wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30 years old. That’s right, 30. Let me tell you, growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s with undiagnosed learning issues (there was more than one) made for a fun childhood. I lost count of the times my parents and I heard “He has such potential. If he’d only apply himself”.
I think we all know that public schools in this country aren’t exactly friendly to young people who learn differently from the “norm”. If you don’t think so, talk to the parents of some special needs kids and you’ll see what I mean. But, hey, they’re a bureaucracy so you pretty much expect that kind of thing from them. Where don’t expect it is at church. You know, that place where we’re all supposed to feel welcome? Yeah, sometimes not so much.
Look, I know it’s hard to be accommodating to everyone’s needs. And, most of the time, churches do all right. Almost all of them make accommodations for people with physical disabilities, addiction, even dietary concerns. But, that kid who can’t sit still? Or, the adult that zones out during a sermon or extended prayer? Sometimes, it feels like we’re left out in the cold.
Sunday school isn’t so bad. For kids, Sunday school these days is set up with their antsy-ness in mind. As for adults, there are usually enough options that it’s possible to find one that will keep your attention. The problem is worship.
In most churches, worship isn’t really set up for people with ADD. Especially progressive and mainline ones, which often feature extended prayer/contemplative time. While that’s great for most folks, for me, it’s an invitation to drift off into mists of the twisted morass I call a mind. Which, of course, leads to self-recrimination because I’m supposed to be focused on the prayer, not some crazy-ass fever dream. So, I redouble my efforts to concentrate/be in the moment only to find myself shortly drifting off again. It’s a cycle that repeats until the prayer/meditation is over and I can open my eyes and rejoin the “normal” world. If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound like a pleasant worship experience, you’re right.
Truthfully, an energetic Pentecostal service or the rock concert atmosphere of a good megachurch is what really works for me. But, there’s a problem with both of those models: the theology. Pentecostals tend to get bogged down in minutiae like whether men should wear beards or not. And the megachurches? Those things are so vapid as to be almost theology-free. But, bad as they are, they’re almost preferable to sitting in a cold-ass pile of stones with the frozen chosen, reciting creeds and singing hymns that lost their meaning years ago through sheer repetition. Singing empty and theologically faulty praise songs over and over again isn’t any better. Worship, for me, is often a matter of holding my nose and making a (bad) choice.
But, as a wise man recently told me, complaining without offering solutions is just bitching. And, that doesn’t get us anywhere. Taking his advice to heart, I offer the following suggestions:
- When it comes to prayers and similar practices, brevity is your friend. Seriously. As I noted before, extended prayer time is hard for people with ADD. Hell, sitting still and paying attention for more than 10 minutes at a time is hard for me. Removing outside stimulation makes it damn near impossible.
- Music helps, especially if it’s good and spread throughout the service. When I say good, I’m not just talking about the song itself, I mean the presentation. I don’t need confetti cannons and laser light shows, but decent accompaniment and a spirited delivery make a huge difference.
- Shake things up. The “We’ve always done it this way”attitude is a killer. One of the things that told me College Park was my kind of place was this picture hanging outside the pastor’s office:
- Don’t be afraid to go outside the box for sermon ideas. By “outside the box” I’m not just talking about classical literature. Sci-fi shows like Firefly and Doctor Who have some amazing content. And, quoting people like Elie Wiesel, Flannery O’Connor and Will D. Campbell will also grab (and keep) my attention.
Those are just a few ideas and it goes without saying that they don’t cover everything. People with ADD are just diverse as anyone else and what works for me might not do much for someone else. So, let me offer one last suggestion: seek out those people in your congregation and ask if they’re okay with the way things are going and find out if there are things that could be improved. We’re smart, creative people, you might be surprised at what you hear.